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Associated Press, Published October 06 2013

Great Plains digs out after snow

PIERRE, S.D. – In the span of 24 hours, the scenic Black Hills in South Dakota were coated in up to 3½ feet of wet, heavy snow, one of several Great Plains states walloped by a storm system that’s caused millions of dollars in damage.

National Weather Service meteorologist Katie Pojorlie said the snow was expected to end later Saturday, giving people a chance to start digging out from the unusual, record-setting early fall snowstorm.

But wintry weather wasn’t the only thing wrapped into the powerful cold front, as thunderstorms brought heavy rain, hail and as many as nine tornadoes to Nebraska and Iowa. Fifteen people in northeast Nebraska were injured in a tornado Friday, and three died in a car accident on a snow-slicked Nebraska road.

Forecasters said the front would eventually combine with other storms to make for a wild – and probably very wet – weekend for much of the central U.S. and Southeast.

Power outages and impassable roads plagued western South Dakota on Saturday. More than 25,000 people lost power in the Rapid City area, and authorities were recruiting snowmobilers to help rescue about 80 motorists who’d been stuck in their vehicles overnight.

Rapid City plow driver Jesse Curnow said Saturday morning things weren’t moving so smoothly in chest-high drifts after a 21-inch snowfall.

“My truck is still stuck on company grounds, Curnow, one of about a dozen workers who usually work at a local quarry, said by telephone from the cab of his truck. “I’m trapped. I can kind of move, but only a little bit.”

One of the five front-end loaders dispatched to downtown got stuck en route, he said, calling it simply “a mess.”

Pennington County Emergency Management spokeswoman Alexa White said the stranded motorists turned on their cars at times during the night to stay warm. The rescue efforts, she said, were slow-going because “the only way to get there is the snowmobiles or the Sno-Cats.”

“The plows have gotten stuck in the roads,” she said.

Also stuck were four employees of the National Weather Service’s Rapid City office. They’d been there since Friday, meteorologist David Carpenter said Saturday.

“There is a 3-foot drift across the parking lot and no one has had the energy to shovel it out yet,” he said.

Friday’s snowfall – 19 inches – broke the previous one-day snowfall record for October by about nine inches; it was set on Oct. 19, 1919, Carpenter said. Friday also surpassed the record for the entire month, 15.1 inches, also set in 1919.

Pojorlie said the historic mining city of Lead, S.D., in the northern Black Hills had received 43½ inches of snow by 7:30 p.m. Friday and more had fallen overnight.

In southwest North Dakota, about 10 inches of snow fell Friday, National Weather Service meteorologist Adam Jones said from Bismarck.

Interstate 90 was still closed in the western part of South Dakota on Saturday morning, and officials advised against travel on other roads in the area.

Recovery might be slow because crews with Black Hills Power weren’t able to work overnight because of blowing snow, spokesman Mutch Usera said. The weather service said there were wind gusts of up to 70 mph in the area.

Crews from other utilities are expected to arrive to help fix transmission lines, he said, though the Black Hills’ rough terrain and downed tree branches were hampering restoration efforts.

“Hopefully, the sun will shine a little bit and get a bit warmer. That’s going to make it easier,” Usera said.

When temperatures warm up into the 50s by Monday, the snow melt could cause flooding, White said, but officials are just focusing on rescue efforts for now.

Meanwhile, National Weather Service meteorologist Mike Fuhs said crews were assessing damage in Iowa and Nebraska after as many as nine touched down Friday evening.

Some of the most severe tornado damage was in Wayne, Neb., where at least 10 buildings were destroyed and five were heavily damaged in the town of 9,600, the Omaha World-Herald reported. Ten homes near the town were also damaged.

Mayor Ken Chamberlain said at least 15 people were injured, with one person in critical condition. He said the storm caused millions of dollars in damage to an area that includes businesses and the city’s softball complex.

The cold front is moving slowly east and expanding south and will meet up with the remnants of Tropical Storm Karen.

Pojorlie said the wet, heavy snow blanketing the state was more like a typical spring storm.

“Normally, we get some snow events here in October that give people a little bit of a chance to learn how to drive in snow again. This year, we got started with a blizzard.”